The University of Iowa

UI grads apt at apps

September 3rd, 2014

The Daily Iowan

Blake Rupe and Ruihao Min are two recent University of Iowa graduates who have made a splash in the technology world, winning awards and participating in special programs, respectively.

Rupe is the creator and CEO of Re-APP, an app that “enables users to measure and track their recycling over time, much like a calorie counter.” The app, Rupe said, turns recycling into a competitive game in which players log what items they have recycled and can compete against friends and family on a leaderboard.

Min is the creator and CEO of Blue Cheese, a visual menu translator app that translates the names of menu items and provides detailed information about the foods’ flavor, ingredients, textures, and popularity.

The two inventors’ accomplishments and stories were featured Tuesday on WorldCanvass, a UI show filmed at local cinema FilmScene.

re-app and blue cheese

Blue Cheese (top) and Re-APP were developed by UI students Min and Rupe, respectively

Min and Rupe credit the inspiration for their apps to international experiences. 

Rupe said the idea for Re-APP was born when she spent the summer of 2013 in Mexico researching for her master’s thesis and analyzing how much garbage was left along the coastal zone.

After compiling her report, she said, she realized that up to 87 percent of the garbage she catalogued was recyclable. 

“I realized then that I would try to devote myself after I graduated to some sort of recycling cause or company,” she said. “So I went out and started researching and couldn’t find any that I wanted to work for, none did what I wanted to do, which was affect the human behavior behind recycling.”

Min, a student from China, said during his freshman year he was eating dinner with a Taiwanese girl and ordered salad with blue cheese dressing to impress her.

With such a nice name, Min said, he assumed it would have a delicious taste.

“Along the way of our journey, we realized that the difficulty of understanding menus is a universal challenge and that there is a big difficulty in getting familiar with the culture,” Min said.

Liqi Wang, the chief operations officer of Blue Cheese, said he and others expected to be able to order the right food with ease but found they couldn't.

“We all were frightened before,” he said. “We all experienced the cultural shocks and differences, the homesickness.”

Despite that both are app developers, the two innovators come from very different backgrounds.

While at the UI, Min studied marketing and economics; Rupe graduated with a Master of Arts in international studies.

Lacking a business background, Rupe quickly found herself unsure of how to proceed with her idea.

“I got back and spent five months convinced that I could not make this app, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said. “I would be driving to work and think of features that I would want to use that would be really cool, or would be using another app and think ‘Oh, it would be cool if mine had this functionality.’ So it started to become real in my mind, and I couldn’t turn it off.”

Eventually, after those five months of second-guessing and research into recycling and human behavior, Rupe reached out to the Bedell Entrepreneurship Lab for help. There, she said, she found the support and guidance she needed to successfully take her idea into the real world.

With his business experience, Min was much more aware of what he had to do, and he said he almost immediately began looking for someone with a strong tech background and was eventually able to form a dedicated team of students.

Although both apps have been out for only a few months, they have generated substantial interest, with Blue Cheese wining Best New App in the Apple app store and Re-App being selected to participate in the Iowa Startup Accelerator program in Cedar Rapids.

“The [award] that I think is the most significant was that we were featured as the best new app for the iTunes app store and the best for July as well,” Min said. “It resulted in getting 70,000 users shortly with no marketing efforts.”